Columns > Published on March 3rd, 2016

14 Things That Prove Tyra Banks' 'Modelland' Is The Craziest Book Ever

Where to begin? That’s the real challenge here.

Let’s re-state, just in case:

Tyra Banks’ Modelland is the most batshit crazy thing I’ve ever read in my life.

It’s 560-some pages of absolute, balls-to-the-wall insanity. And that's coming from someone with bona fides. I’ve read more than my fair share of bizarro and bizarro-adjacent books. I’ve read dinosaur-related Kindle erotica professionally. I have a favorite fanfic that involves Leonardo DiCaprio having sex with a Goombah from Super Mario Bros. 

None of this compares the weirdness of Tyra Banks’ Modelland.

The only way I could think to explain the crazy of this book was to pick my 14 favorite things about it. 

Also, I guess, spoiler alert. If you're the kind of person who thinks something like an acid trip can be spoiled for you by being told you're about to trip balls, then this alert is for you.

The hilarity of the main characters flying to Modelland in what is DEFINITELY a huge ball sack, a ball sack that even fills with "fluid" at several points, is not to be skipped over.

The Quick Summary

Modelland is your typical part 1 of a 3-part teen dystopian series. It draws from a lot of familiar stuff—Harry Potter, Hunger Games—but mostly, it's reminiscent of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Here's how it works.

Modelland is this weird, mysterious place that everyone kind of knows about. Girls go there to become models. And also to have superpowers. Sometimes. It's complicated.

One day every year, girls parade around in this ceremony called TDOD (The Day of Discovery. Tyra LOVES shortening shit), are selected by Modelland scouts, and whisked away to Modelland. In a giant, gossamer ball sack. I know, I said this summary would be quick, but the hilarity of the main characters flying to Modelland in what is DEFINITELY a huge ball sack, a ball sack that even fills with "fluid" at several points, is not to be skipped over.

Our main character is Tookie, who is obviously teenage Tyra. Tookie doesn't think she's going to be selected to go to Modelland, but then she totally is. And when she gets to Modelland, she deals with crazy classes, weird people, her second crush, her first period, magic lightning that turns things transparent, people transformed into cats, and a conspiracy theory that wraps up in the strangest, most bizarre fashion. You could say it's a book about friends, fashion, and growing up. But it would be more accurate to say this book is about seeing how crazy a thing can be put into print before the ink just refuses to adhere to paper.

We good? Let's get to it.

1. What's in a Name?

You've never seen a book with names like these. 

I did just read a little news piece about a real-life Florida woman named Chrystal Methany. That's a real person's name. And of course there are famous names like Le-a, supposedly pronounced 'luh-dash-uh." But when it comes to Modelland, fiction is stranger than truth.

We've got our main character, Tookie de la Creme. We've got her father, Chris de la Creme. We've got Tookie's mom, Creamy de la creme, which is a hilarious name until you find out her full, maiden name: Cremalatta Defacake.

There's a Theophilus Lovelaces, a Zarpessa Zarionneaux. There's not a Joe or a Matt in sight, although there IS a man named Guru Mattjoe. There's even a magical black man named Wingtip.

But the ultimate taker of cake has to be Ci~L.

Yep, that's a tilde. The wavy dash thing that's near the upper-left of your keyboard. Usually it appears above another letter, but here, screw it, right in the middle of a name.

You might be wondering what the proper pronunciation of this name is. Well, about 90% of the way through this book, after you've struggled over it for hours, or maybe you did like me, gave up, and called her "Seal," just when you're reaching the home stretch, Ci~L's mom drops the knowledge on us that it's "see-ell." The explanation? Because when momma saw baby Ci~L, she could "see love," and therefore named her daughter a shortened version of "see love."

Personally, I see that tilde, and I see red, rage. Death. This:

But I'm just one man.

2. Chris Gets Creamed

In a slew of crazy things, one of the early events that...caught my eye was the way in which Tookie's father, Chris, lost his...eye.

Chris was once known professionally as Chris-Creme-Crobat because of his great acrobatics. Sort of like how I'm professionally referred to as Pete-Pasturbate.

But Chris' acrobatic days are long gone due to a tragic accident.


Here's what happens.

Chris is doing a high wire thing way up in the air, suspended over the circus ring, which is encircled by swords just to up the tension.

During a crucial part of Chris' performance, Creamy, Tookie's mom and Chris' wife, takes out her makeup mirror to do a little touchup. She accidentally flashes light right in Chris' eyes, and he falls from whatever the hell it is he's on.

Now, you might think the fall is where Chris lost his eye. Just wait.

The crowd gasps, and just when we think we're going to get a new Robin out of the deal, Chris lands on his back, does some kind of tumbling maneuver, and ends on his feet, perfectly fine.

The crowd goes apeshit. And Chris runs around the ring, bowing like crazy, bowing deep and hard until he bows in the wrong spot and he skewers his eye on one of the aforementioned swords lining the circus ring.


Let me summarize why this is so great.

I *think* we're supposed to be getting that Tookie's mom is so vane and horrible, and it's ruined everyone's lives, as evidenced by the partial blinding of her husband. But what we get instead is a weird situation where the ultimate idiocy cost a dude his eye. 

If you lost your eye that way, wouldn't you have to lie? Tell people it was, a bar fight? An industrial accident? Something less embarrassing like, I don't know, you were a kid and you walked around a corner really fast and your mom's naked, erect nipple poked your eye out? Wouldn't you tell a story like that, one that's a little less humiliating?

3. Judy Blume This Ain't

What coming-of-age story would be complete without a visit from Aunt Flo? Flo Henderson? Flo and the Machine? Flo Nightingale?

Periods, okay? I'm talking about periods.

When the girls arrive at Modelland, their periods all synch up instantly, and they all find themselves bleeding on day two.

Now, Tyra is VERY careful to point out that periods can synch up after women spend significant amounts of time together, but that the magic of Modelland allows for all girls to immediately be on the same schedule. This is stated twice in a few pages, very clearly, and I think it's so we all know that Tyra knows how periods work.


I was reading this, thinking, "Hey, I get it. These girls are becoming women. This is a big moment. And what an interesting idea to juxtapose something far-fetched like Modelland, a place of weird magic, with something very grounding like menstruation. That works."

And then a magic statue comes to life, tells all the girls that, thanks to Modelland magics, they'll never have periods again, but will be able to reproduce.

This happens all of an hour after Tookie's first period starts. 

What's fascinating to me is that Tyra chooses to bring up periods in her own book, and then can't seem to dismiss them fast enough. 

4. Superpowers

Some models get superpowers. It's complicated. Let's just talk about the possible powers.

Chameeleone: The power to change what you look like. There's an accent on one of the letters in the word "Chameeleone", but I'm not going to dignify this whole thing with the effort. This is already going to take hours to spell check.

Multiplicity: Cloning, basically. And none of the important questions are answered. Does each clone have a mind of its own, or is it a hive mind, or a single, controlling mind? Does each clone have the equivalent strength of the original, or do they split attributes between them, meaning each time a new clone is made they all get weaker. How do they feel about the Michael Keaton film Multiplicity?

ThirtyNever: Age to 29, the revert back to 17, and you do this over and over until you die. I feel like this is a realistic version of the X-Men where some of the powers would seem more like ancient curses or something. Like a person would ask a genie for this power, but then learn a lesson. I hate when someone in a story learns a lesson.

Excite-To-Buy: If you have this power, people around you want to buy stuff. Not necessarily stuff you're selling. People around you just feel the sudden urge to purchase things they were already interested in.

Seduksheeon: Dudes want to bang you. Apparently, if dudes want to bang you, congratulations, you're a superhero in Modelland terms.

Then, screw it, we've got another worthless power of knowing what will be in fashion in a few years, and also we've got teleporting. Bamf.

5. Tookie's Friends

I didn't mention it before, but when Tookie is ensconced in the giant gossamer ball sack and taken to Modelland, she does have to accompany the Modelland scout on a couple other stops to pick up other girls. 

There are so many girls in this book, all with their own insane back stories, but my favorites are Dylan, the girl from a country that's a giant retail store, Shiraz, who comes from a country that has an entirely candle-based economy and way of life, and Piper, who is albino and lives in a country where the people are constantly terrified that hunchbacks are gonna bust their doors down and eat their livers.

I know, that last one sounds made up. Like I took a couple things from the book and added my own, much crazier thing. No, my friends. This is all too real.

In fact, a hunchback journeys to Modelland on foot to try and eat Piper's liver. It's an epic struggle, sort of like The Revenant if Leo didn't get to eat that liver until the very end, and the liver was the whole purpose of the struggle, and also he passed several other livers on his way to the one he ended up eating, but arbitrarily decided that this one, special liver was the only one for him.

Oh, and because names remain fun throughout the book, this brave hunchback is affectionately referred to as "Hunchy."

6. Underworld

At one point, our hero, Tookie, has to go to the hospital. Which is called the Drama Trauma Center or DTC because this is Modelland and nothing can be called a normal name.

We meet a purse [what nurses are called in Modelland for NO reason] who has a giant pair of scissors on top of her head, which are an organic extension of her body. 

It gets better.

The doctor rolls up, and I mean that literally because she has roller skates instead of feet. And this is not by chance. 

All doctors here at Modelland have them…[Modelland] was a blessing for my kind, because the powers that be at Modelland recognized that skates for feet would be put to good use in emergency medical situations…they figured we could get from one patient to the next with speed and ease. So they trained us all and…here I am. They take good care of us…My daughter, Camina Marche, she’s about your age. She’s just like her mama. Got roller skates for feet too. She wouldn’t have a chance in life without this place. She’s in medical school right now.

But wait, there's more:

Modelland isn’t just what you see when you go from class to class. There is a whole underground world here. Parts of it are still a mystery to even me, and I was born here.

Pick up that phone and hold it. Because this is confusing.

There is an entire city of people underneath Modelland. This is where all the Modelland staff lives. Doctors...I guess janitors? I don't know. You don't really see much staff lurking around.

In a semi-competent book, you would be certain that this underground society would play a part in the story moving forward. At some point, we're going to see this underground land, or the residents will revolt, or Tookie will befriend a little underground girl and see that, hey, we're not so different. If this was anything like the Best-Picture-Nominated (nope) Demolition Man, we'd journey underground, eat a rat burger, hear a Denis Leary rant, and then chase a bad guy through tunnels with lots of steam.

NOPE! Alas, this is no Demolition Man. The above quote is the one and ONLY mention of this underground society. It never comes into play again. Case closed.

This is the equivalent of seeing one Oompa Loompa, then he goes into a little door, and then we never see them or hear from them again. Except also the Oompa Loompa would have, I don't know, an orbital sander for a head or something.

7. Bravo

Bravo, a boy who is in Bestosterone, the male equivalent of Modelland, is involved in a lot of great stories, including Tookie's ideal kiss, which involves being sung to, having a message written on naked mens' chests, and having whipped cream shot into her mouth.

But the best story is Bravo's tale of woe.

I'll sum it up: Bravo just too damn hot.

When Bravo was a boy, he had grown women proposing marriage to him. He could barely walk the streets without being ooh-ed and aah-ed over. In fact, he was so hot that an orchestra conductor saw him in an audience, wrote an entire symphony dedicated TO HIS FACE, and demanded Bravo stand on stage during the entire performance.

And the real sad part is, Bravo has a simple dream: to be an architect.

His problem? He's too hot. Nobody wants to hear him talk about buildings. They just want to talk to him about how hot he is and what's it like to be so hot?

There's a really weird theme that crops up a few times in Modelland, which is a character explaining that it's really hard to be hot. 

I get it, I'm sure there are some really annoying things about being super hot. But...boy do you have to write the shit out of that story to make me feel it.

Kudos to Modelland for going the opposite route, trying to get us to see how hard it is to be hot. But Boo-dos for the execution. My god did I not feel sympathy for the world's hottest man.

8. Lightning Strikes Thrice

This one is tough to explain, but it's worth it. This is Tyra's oddest, most-involved literary backflip in the entire book.

At some point, Modelland becomes like a prison, and Tookie and her friends decide to mount an escape.

They have two options. Option A is to climb the wall, which puts them in the Diabolical Divide, a total horrible place of death and dismemberment.

Option B is to try this portal thingie, which has about a 50/50 chance of putting them either in the Diabolical Divide or in a town, the exact town they want to be in. 

Astute readers will notice that the options are to go with A and absolutely, for sure, end up in a horrible place, or to go with B and MAYBE end up in the horrible place, maybe end up in a good place. Astute readers and planners would note these odds and outcomes and say, "Screw it, might as well try the portal." 

If that's what you thought, you haven't been reading enough Modelland. Because the girls opt for the wall and the absolute certainty they'll end up in a horrible place.

That is, until they see what happens to a girl who tries to escape.

Alright, Tookie is in a tower, and she sees this girl climb the wall, get to the top, and drop down to the other side.

The Belladonna, the god/queen of Modelland, knows this has happened, and the girl must immediately be punished.

The problem, story-wise, is that we can't SEE this girl because she's on the other side of a massive wall. We can't see what is about to happen to her, unless...unless there's some way Tyra could help us see what's going on.

Deus Ex Modellandia, magical lightning strikes the wall, rendering a small portion of it transparent. No, the lightning doesn't blow a hole in a wall, it makes the wall see-thru.

Then, thanks to our new window, we watch as the girl on the other side of the wall is transformed into an old crone as punishment for attempting an escape.

And now we have a new problem. We need the girl to see that she's become an old crone, but we also need Tookie to see the girl's reaction. How to work that out...

Ah! A SECOND bolt of lightning hits the wall and turns the wall into a two-way mirror, meaning the girl/crone can see herself, and Tookie can see the girl. 

At this point, if you've accepted that lightning can turn a wall see-thru, you must also accept that a second bolt could turn it into a two-way mirror. Neither of those things is more impossible because they're both 100% impossible. There's no such thing as 110% impossible.

Oh, also, a third bolt hits the wall eventually and turns it back into a regular-ass wall. Because why not?

9. Too Many Tyras

Throughout the entire book, it's totally clear that Tookie is teenage Tyra. If it wasn't obvious from the book itself, Tyra said as much in a recorded Google Hangout that served as a Modelland release party of sorts.

Yes, that's a thing I watched. I'm in deep, you guys.

But as we get further in the book, the focus shifts to Ci~L. This was a strange, uncharacteristic move. For Tyra to talk less about her Mary Sue and more about another character, it was just not her style as displayed up to this point.

What brought it all together was when I learned that Ci~L is ALSO Tyra.

See, what Tyra did is to write her teenage self in as Tookie, and her adult self in as Ci~L. Forget Mary Sue, this is Mary Two.

It's not bizarre in the same way magic lightning is bizarre, but it's very telling of this book that just when I thought Tyra wasn't writing about herself for a second, she totally was. Twice as much.

10. A Rampaging Monster is Defeated By The Power of Dance

I feel like describing this any further only takes away from how bizarre it is, so let's leave it there.

11. The Cafeteria in Modelland Features Elevators That Travel Sideways and Showers That Shoot Out Desserts

The architecture of Modelland is unbelievable, but nowhere is it more so than in the cafeteria. If that's what you want to call it.

To give it some connection to reality, I like to imagine the contractor who was called in to do the job.

Step one, create giant harnesses to hoist girls up to huge vats of food and lower them inside.

Contractor: "Okay, you're the boss."

Step two, make the vats transform into elevators, which travel sideways into another room.

Contractor: "Well. Alright. I mean...I could save you a lot of money here if we look at a couple things. First of all, do these vats need to also be elevators? I'm just picturing that as tough, and that's before you throw in a couple hundred gallons of lasagna. Second, I've seen a couple sideways elevators before, and the the low-tech solution I prefer is something we call a hallway."

Step three, showers that shoot out desserts such as chocolate and caramel, and one that's completely stopped up because it's supposed to spray pralines.

Contractor: "I got my plumber here, and he thinks he can do chocolate and caramel. But the pralines...I don't...they're not a liquid. To achieve pralines spraying from a shower head, there'd have to be some kind of air pressure or something. And the shower head has to go. There's no shower head with holes big enough to fit a praline. Also, this is just a really horrid idea. The drainage alone for the mixture of chocolate, caramel, and pralines, I give that two months."

12. Nobody Takes A Crap

Might be just me, but a big disappointment was that no one takes a crap at any point. In this book with praline showers and magic spells that banish periods, god help me, I wanted to see what a Modelland toilet was all about.

13. There's Actually ALMOST A Good Idea In Here

Every once in a while, you get a glimpse of the book that could have been. The book that encapsulates Tyra's experience. How strange it must have seemed to live a normal life and then be in foreign countries, having your picture taken for money before you could drive.

There are brief moments in Modelland where that good book comes through. The one that uses outlandish and amped-up versions of Tyra's reality to show us what her life might have been like.

But then a group of cats offer Tookie pills and everything is blown to hell.

14. Tyra Totally Wrote This

Modelland came out smack in the middle of an era when bookstores were jammed with ghostwritten teen novels. Hilary Duff, Snookie, a Kardashian or two. This was a thing.

But after reading Modelland, the craziest part of all, I'm 100% sure that Tyra wrote this book, this ENTIRE book, by herself.

The reason?

If you were a ghostwriter and you turned in a manuscript that remotely resembled Modelland, you'd be fired immediately. Any publisher with half a brain would not accept this as material to be attributed to a celebrity. You'd be turned down. They'd say, "We are trying to create a good relationship with Tyra Banks, not besmirch her name."

Tyra said her original manuscript was over 1000 pages, and she said the stress of writing gave her alopecia. And I totally believe it.

The craziest thing about this book is that it's real.

About the author

Peter Derk lives, writes, and works in Colorado. Buy him a drink and he'll talk books all day.  Buy him two and he'll be happy to tell you about the horrors of being responsible for a public restroom.

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